Posts Tagged ‘CIRSA’

Victor Hugo Garcia Lopez relaxing with his children after offering me a tour of his organic coffee farm.

Victor Hugo Garcia Lopez relaxing with his children after offering me a tour of his organic coffee farm.

Co-operatives Supporting Co-operatives!

Co-op Food Stores in New Hampshire has a strong commitment to supporting family farmers, sustainable agriculture, and what we like to call the “cooperative supply chain” which basically means, co-operatives supporting other co-operatives.  In the case of Co-op Food Stores, we have created a very special relationship between CIRSA, one of my favorite coffee co-ops in Chiapas, Mexico, Equal Exchange, and Co-op Food Stores.  This “sister co-op relationship” is part of the Co-op brand coffee program that we have created, whereby for every pound of Co-op brand coffee sold, Co-op Food Stores and Equal Exchange each invest 20 cents into the Sister Co-op Partner Fund.  Money from this fund goes directly to CIRSA to support their efforts to build resiliency in the face of dramatically changing weather patterns.  In Simojovel, Chiapas, where these communities of indigenous small-scale farmers make their living exclusively from the production and sale of their coffee, unseasonably long rainy seasons and the “roya” (coffee rust disease) has reduced their overall yields by 70% in the past two years.  Co-op Food Stores and Equal Exchange have raised enough money to help CIRSA build solar dryers which keep the coffee dry even under relentless rains, in two of their thirteen member communities.  We are now trying to raise money for additional dryers in the remaining communities.

Below is an article written by Amanda Charland, Director of Outreach and Member Services for Co-op Food Stores.  For more information about this partnership please go here.  To learn more about how you can support Equal Exchange’s Climate Justice Fund, where 100% of the donations go directly to support our farmer partners in their efforts to build resiliency in the face of climate change, please call Phyllis Robinson, Education & Campaigns Manager, at 774-776-7390. To make a donation to our Fund, you can also send a tax deductible donation to our NGO partner, Hesperian Health Guides, 1919 Addison Street, Suite 304, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Be sure to write Equal Exchange Climate Justice Fund on the check.

Coffee, Coops, and Climate Change

When I left New Hampshire, bound for Mexico, it was three in the morning and snowing. In the rush, I barely stopped to think about the routine filling of my coffee mug, except for the momentary relief the hot beverage provided from the cold.

As I trudged through the snow, grasping my warm beverage, carrying all my belongings for the week on my back, I never realized that I was about to say goodbye to something. After this trip, my relationship with coffee would never be the same.

Mexico or Bust
The minute my feet hit solid ground after a very long day of flights, my appreciation for coffee had already grown tenfold. The sheer distance we had traveled was exhausting, and we still weren’t at the coffee farms! Our mission in Mexico seemed simple enough: meet with our sister cooperative—a partnership project set up by Equal Exchange—and learn about the process of coffee. I thought, “I know what to expect. I’ve seen videos and pictures of coffee being harvested.” In a very small way, I was right. The physical processing of the coffee is pretty straightforward—very labor intensive, but straightforward.

I was very wrong about the rest of the story. Coffee farming is complicated and surrounded by a web of influence that pictures and videos can’t describe.

Read more here.

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In January 2008, I took a group of Equal Exchange staff to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about some of the current realities that indigenous rural communities there are facing and to visit with one of our small farmer coffee co-operative partners, CIRSA.  Mike Mowry, Quality Control Technician, was one of the participants on that trip.  The following is a reflection from Mike along with a song that he wrote about his experience, recorded by his band, The Stress.

Mark 053There are many things I could write about from the Equal Exchange staff trip to Chiapas, Mexico back in January of ’08, so finding a place to start can be a little intimidating.  As someone who has a deep-seated passion for coffee, my initial excitement about this trip was geared mostly around what I wanted to learn from our farmer-partners in terms of the intense work that goes into the coffee harvest, processing, and export.  As I hope consumers know, the work is back-breaking, labor intensive, and to top it all off, highly dependent on swift and exact timing.  But besides what I learned about coffee harvesting, I walked away from that trip with far more.

I left Chiapas with a deeper understanding of the real consequences of NAFTA, and the negative effects of free trade on small farmers and their communities.  While massive factory farms in the United States enjoy the benefits of government subsidies, small, rural farmers all over Mexico and Central America find the gap between their food supply and their means of controlling it growing further and further apart.  While genetically modified and state subsidized American corn hits Mexican markets at prices lower than it costs for Mexicans to sell their own, you have to ask yourself “what’s wrong with this picture?”  “How did we get here?”

Mark 135As a musician, I felt it important to write something about the experiences of those in Mexico for whom the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement was the last straw.  That’s the focus of the song “1994”, which I wrote with my band about a year after I returned from the trip to Chiapas to visit with one of our small farmer co-operative trading partners: Las Comunidades Indígenas de La Región de Simojovel de Allende; or CIRSA, for short.  The song focuses on the struggles of small farmers in Mexico, and the indigenous rebellion which exploded on January 1st, 1994 following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

We hope that you enjoy the song.

Please feel free to share it with friends or family.

About The Stress:

The Stress is a four piece traditional ska, rocksteady and reggae band from Providence, RI and Boston, MA.  We take influence from a range of musicians; from traditional Jamaican music to 1960’s British Invasion rock.  If you’d like to hear more of The Stress, please feel free to check out our website.

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The following article, written by Patty Kupfer, was printed in the September/October 2008 issue of Sojourner’s Magazine. Patty used to work for Witness for Peace and co-organized some of Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Department’s delegation visits to Chiapas. During these trips, we visited our coffee farmer partners, CIRSA, an amazing organization of Tzotzil and Tzeltal -speaking indigenous farmers located in the highlands of Chiapas. Patty interviewed some members of the co-op for this article. You can also read more about CIRSA in the Viroqua Food Co-op’s May/June 2008 newsletter.


Ask the nearly 600 members of the CIRSA coffee cooperative in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, how things are going and they’ll tell you, “Little by little, we’re moving forward.” Considering that a couple of decades ago the parents of these indigenous farmers worked in slavery-like conditions on large coffee plantations in the region, and that their region has been ignored and marginalized throughout its history, their progress is tremendous.

The Indigenous Communities of the Simojovel de Allende Region (CIRSA in Spanish) shipped 235 tons of fair trade coffee last year to the United States and Europe. Through the fair trade certification system, the small farmers of CIRSA and similar cooperatives throughout Latin America are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee. This provides stability to small farmers, who live in some of the world’s poorest regions—and who are especially vulnerable to the volatile market that dictates world coffee prices. This is why, on our weekly trip to the grocery store, many of us fork over some extra change for fair trade coffee. (more…)

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